Four Lessons From Online Learning that Should Stick

One of the many changes COVID-19 brought those in education was an almost immediate switch to online learning. These efforts resulted in digitally mediated physical classrooms using the internet – not online education. While these two options sound the same, they are not.

Bridging physical distance through technology alone doesn’t address the additional adjustments required to cater for learner needs. Posting materials online, recording lectures anddiscussions do not themselves create a coached, collaborative and supported learning environment.

So what have we really learned about online education? And what do we do now?

The experience of online pioneers highlights four distinct aspects of online learning that should stick post-pandemic: learning to learn online, designing online teaching with purpose, blending space and time online, and continued disruption with artificial intelligence (AI).

Learning to learn online

The pandemic highlighted the reality that one-size-fits-all educational approaches fail to address student needs. Common inequities, like poor access to the internet, lack of financial resources, and the need for greater digital competence plague online learning.

Online education offers access for students facing geospatial barriers to traditional classrooms. Emergency online education used blunt-edged instruments, ignoring student and programme differences. The pandemic takeaway, however, is the importance of preparing all students to learn, whether online or in a physical classroom.

Designing online teaching with purpose

Quality teaching and learning design must incorporate active, engaging roles for individual students, whether designed for traditional or distance education.

Meaningful teaching varies from on setting to another and requires a variety of different approaches. The design of online courses and teaching is learner rather than content centred; it incorporates high engagement in collaborative learning groups that fosters active learning.

Producing effective online course materials requires an approach involving both instructors and skilled course developers, and it takes months rather than weeks. Course materials are painstakingly detailed, and include writing everything the instructor would expect to say in a physical classroom, clearly describing all course requirements and linking students to readings, video and online resources.

Technological tools, combined with independent and joint working opportunities, should be brought back to the physical or hybrid classroom in conjunction with online pedagogical approaches that increase active, collaborative learning and learner-generated choices.

Blending space and time online

Pandemic education popularised the vocabulary of ‘synchronous’ and ‘asynchronous’ learning. Synchronous learning replicated physical classrooms through real-time, digitally mediated teaching, while asynchronous meant working independently, usually with materials designed for a physical classroom. Moving forward we need to think about how timing and presence affects learning.

More flexible teaching allows students to receive instructor support when they need it. Building in synchronous, collaborative learning allows for reflection, rather than real time responses.

COVID-19 began the disruption, AI will continue it

The pandemic revealed how education approaches can change after instructors had to search for innovative ways to improve student learning outcomes outside the physical classroom.

Research suggests that adopting online and AI tools needs to be deliberate, coupled with supportive digital infrastructure and highly responsive student support. Planned carefully and taken together, these steps improve on traditional approaches by making education truly open, accessible and inclusive.

Now, the question for all educators should be: How do we capitalise on COVID-19 initiated change to build better education systems for the future?